Spurs optimism is high but a realistic target is to simply avoid Spursy backwards steps

Ian King
Spurs players training in Seoul

Spurs players have been involved in some public throwing-up and collapsing in Korea, but how high can they set their ambitions for 2022/23?


What was probably most notable about the Spurs training session in South Korea that grabbed headlines over Harry Kane throwing up and Son Heung Min collapsing is that this was a public training session. Under the guidance of head coach Antonio Conte and fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, the Spurs players were pushed to the limit with this intensive training session, which may be interpreted as a thinly veiled message that the gossamer-thin character of Spurs teams of days gone by is a thing of the past and that the changes wrought since taking the job may now be starting to move towards some degree of fruition.

But what are Spurs’ realistic aspirations and expectations for next season? Some pundits have already gone on the record as saying that they could even challenge Manchester City and Liverpool for the Premier League title next season. But talk of winning the Premier League should surely be weighed against the possibility that they could just as easily finish next season by missing out on a Champions League place altogether. Spurs are in that small coterie of Premier League clubs who will be starting next season looking down the league table as well as up. Arsenal’s summer transfer window has been imaginative, and Manchester United surely can’t be as lackadaisical as they were last season. Furthermore, the overheated nature of this summer’s transfer window makes predicting the future even more difficult than usual.

So far this summer, Spurs have moved in the transfer market with uncharacteristic efficiency and intelligence. It is clear that Conte had specific positions that he wanted to fill, and fill them he has. Fraser Forster was the first through the door as an able back-up to Hugo Lloris, though it does raise questions about the medium-to-long term when the combined age of their two goalkeepers will pass 70 before the end of the season. Ivan Perisic is another signing from the more ‘experienced’ end of the spectrum, but as another free transfer looks like an excellent bit of business.

Now cleared of unsavoury allegations that made his transfer feel like a bit of a gamble, Yves Bissouma spent most of last season demonstrating why he was ready for a step-up the football food chain at Brighton, while Richarlison’s arrival adds more depth to Conte’s attacking options than just working Harry Kane and Son Heung Min to the point of vomiting, And Clement Lenglet is a curiosity of a defender, a player who looked as though he was set for great things at Sevilla but whose confidence and form fell off a cliff at Barcelona but now still has time to rescue a career that had become rudderless in Catalunya.

There remains a gap or two that could still do with filling. Regardless of Conte wanting chances to come from their wing-backs, the Spurs central midfield still looks like a bit of a creativity desert, while they could probably do with some more cover at centre-back, but generally it feels as though a plan is in place. It’s all most un-Spurs-like, but it should also be added that this is Tottenham Hotspur that we’re talking about here, so the possibility of yet another banana skin being just around the corner can never be considered to be zero.

But the scale of the task in terms of closing the gap on the top two is vast. Spurs finished last season 22 points behind Manchester City and 21 behind Liverpool, meaning that from a standing position they’d have to improve by seven wins over the course of the season to get close to parity with these two. With the best will in the world, that sounds like a huge gap to make up in one season. Some will turn to Conte’s record at Chelsea, where in 2017 he took a team that had finished the previous season in 10th place in the Premier League table a year earlier to the Premier League title, fuelled by an incredible run of 13 consecutive wins from the start of October to the end of the year. But this sort of improvement is notable because of its rarity. Improving a team to that extent simply isn’t something that can be expected, and certainly not in the increasingly inelastic world of Premier League football.

Predicting where all this ends up feels like a bit of a fool’s errand, with the transfer window having been so hyperactive so far this summer and so much of it left to go. Who, for example, will be leading Chelsea’s attack next season? Spurs only finished three points behind them last season, but there may be a world of difference between them starting next season with a Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped statue up front or Robert Lewandowski, who’s averaged a goal game since the dinosaurs walked the earth. Overhauling Chelsea seems like a realistic target, but even this is never going to be ‘easy’.

And a glance above them makes the task ahead seem daunting. Manchester City have added Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips to their portfolio and likely have more to come, and while Manchester United supporters may have delighted in likening Darwin Nunez to Andy Carroll after his spectacular miss during their pre-season tour match, predicting the Decline and Fall of Liverpool Football Club on the basis of a glorified training match played halfway round the world in July was presumably not entirely serious. United’s 4-0 win felt more like baby steps in the right direction for United than this being the beginning of the fall of the Empire of the Kop.

Perhaps the risk is that expectations might start to balloon beyond what might be realistic. The trappings are all in place: the shiny new stadium, the marquee head coach and Champions League football are all ready for the start of the new season. But when two of the three teams above you have run up more than 90 points six times between them in the last five seasons, the scale of the challenge of even getting close to catching them becomes painfully evident. Closing that gap is a huge challenge, and Spurs supporters may be happy with matching last season, not making fools of themselves in the Champions League, and having something approaching a proper crack at a domestic trophy. Progress doesn’t have to all come in one hit, even if the nature of the modern game tries to demand that it does.